Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Poem: Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep. -Robert Frost (1878-1963)

The Unites States vs. Bradley Manning

Pfc. Bradley Manning, who provided classified government documents to Wikileaks detailing, among other things, America's undisclosed policies on torture, was found guilty of espionage on Tuesday. The verdict comes on the 235 anniversary of the passage of America's first whistle-blower protection law, approved by the Continental Congress after two Navy officers were arrested and harassed for having reported the torture of British prisoners.

How have we gotten to the place where the revelation of torture is no longer laudable whistle-blowing, but now counts as espionage?

The answer is that government has not yet come to terms with the persistence and transparency of the digital age. Information moves so fast and to so many places that controlling it is no longer an option. Every data-point, whether a perverted tweet by an aspiring mayor or a classified video of Reuters news staffers being gunned down by an Apache helicopter, will somehow find the light of day. It's enough to make any administration tremble, but it's particularly traumatic for one with things to hide.

That's why they tried to throw the book, and then some, at Manning.

Prosecutors cast simple internet commands known to any halfway literate user (or anyone who used the Internet back in the early '90s) as clandestine codes used only by hackers to steal data. That Osama bin Laden could download these files off the Wikileaks website (along with millions of other people) became justification for classifying the whistle-blowing as espionage, an act of war. And Manning is just one of record seven American charged with violating the Espionage Act in a single administration.

But prosecuting those whose keyboards or USB sticks may have been technically responsible for the revelations is futile. The more networked we become and the more data we collect, the more likely something will eventually find its way out. After all, a security culture based on surveillance and big data cuts both ways.

Moreover, harsh reaction to digital whistle-blowers only increases the greater population's suspicions that more information is being hidden.

In this one leaking incident, Manning exposed allegations of torture, undisclosed civilian deaths tolls in Afghanistan and Iraq, official orders not to investigate torture by nations holding our prisoners, accusations of the torture of Spanish prisoners at Guantanamo, the "collateral murder" video of Reuters journalists and Iraqi civilians as U.S. soldiers cheered, U.S. State Department support of corporations opposing Haitian minimum wage, training of Egyptian torturers by the FBI in Quantico, Virginia, U.S. authorized stealing of the U.N. Secretary General's DNA, and the list goes on.

These are not launch codes for nuclear strikes, operational secrets or even plans for future military missions. Rather, they are documentation of past activity and officially sanctioned military and state policy. These are not our secrets, but our ongoing actions and approaches.
A thinking government--a virtuous one, if we can still use such a word--would treat this as a necessary intervention. Things have gone too far. But ours is a government in "present shock": an always-on, always-connected population puts the administration in a state of perpetual emergency interruption. It's not the phone call at 2 a.m. for which a president has to be prepared, but the tweet at 3, the Facebook update at 4, the YouTube video at 5, and on and on.
In such a crisis-to-crisis landscape, there's no time to implement or even articulate a "grand narrative." A real-time, digital world offers no sense of mission or opportunity to tell a story.

There's no Cold War to win. No moon shot to work toward. There are just emergent threats, one after the other after the other. Things just exist in the present, one tweet - or, actually, many tweets - at a time.

This makes it exceedingly difficult to frame our policies and strategies with language and purpose. It's no longer a matter of walking the talk. Without the talk, there's only the walk. We have no way of judging the ethics and intentions of our government except by what it actually does.

Combine this with the transparency that comes with digital technology and our leaders simply have no choice but to do the right thing. It takes more energy to prevent exposure than simply to behave consistently with the values we want to project.
Just as corporations are learning that they can no longer maintain low prices through overseas slave labor without getting caught, a democratic government can no longer maintain security through torture and coercion without being exposed. Betraying our respect for human dignity only makes us less resolved as a people, and less trusted as a nation.

We are just beginning to learn what makes a free people secure in a digital age. It really is different. The Cold War was an era of paper records, locked vaults and state secrets, for which a cloak-and-dagger mindset may have been appropriate. In a digital environment, our security comes not from our ability to keep our secrets but rather our ability to live our truth.

from CNN
by Douglas Rushoff, a media theorist, author and a regular column for CNN.com.

Monday, July 29, 2013

How to Watch Television, or Why There is Nothing On

How many times have you said, "There is nothing on television". That is an incorrect statement. With the proliferation of over-the-air and cable stations, there is a great deal to watch. It would be more accurate to say to say that there is very little worth watching on TV. Most of it is a mindless waste of time, what former FCC Chairman, Newton Minnow, called the "the vast wasteland."
We have come a long way from the 1950's and 60's when the FCC said the airways were owned by the people and should be used for the common good. And, there were only three networks and a few local stations which had mostly old movies, television reruns, and baseball games. So, the American people had a common base of information and entertainment. When someone said did you watch that show last night, the chances were good that you had.
To be sure, television programming was by no means perfect. For instance, there was only 15 minutes of national news every night. Most Americans relied on newspapers for news. Minorities were either stereotyped or non-existent on television. And, there were a lot westerns. But, there was also a lot of creativity on television too. Shows like The Twilight Zone, Your Show of Shows (Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca), Playhouse 90, The Ernie Kovaks Show and even The Beverly Hillbillies were interesting, original, and innovative.  
In the 70's and 80's two things happened which changed television. The first was the opening volley in what has become a 50-year war by the Republican Party which claimed that television entertainment and news was dominated by liberals. They objected to shows like All in the Family and whole networks like CBS and PBS which they claimed were outlets for liberal and Communist propaganda. The reason that they said that was entertainment shows dealt with such topics as race, racial equity, feminism, etc. And, the news shows brought the brutality of the Vietnam War and Nixon's criminal activities into the American living room. The country turned on both, and rather than deal with either, they chose to kill the messenger.
The second thing that happened was the start of cable television. When it was introduced, the cable industry said it would be used for cultural programming and non-mass tastes. But, that idea was short-lived. What eventually happened the same media companies came to dominate cable too. But, there was one new player in both cable and on-the-air TV that would be the final nail in the television coffin, Rupert Murdoch.
In September, 1985, while others have to wait in line and pass a citizenship test, Rupert Murdoch became a U.S. citizen by a special act of the Republican-dominated Congress. Why did Murdoch want to be a U.S. citizen? Not because he loves America. He did it because he wanted to meddle in right-wing politics in the U.S. and because a U.S. law says a foreign  national cannot own a television station. Murdoch wanted to own WNEW-TV in New York City, so, to satisfy the legal requirement that only US citizens were permitted to own US television stations, Murdoch became a citizen. From that one station, Murdoch developed a television empire mostly on cable.
In 1996, under the slogan "Fair and Balanced" Fox News Channel was started by Murdoch who hired Roger Ailes who was a media consultant for Republican Presidents Nixon, Reagan and George H. W. Bush as its CEO. Since then, it became the most watched cable news station in the United States. Critics  and media experts have repeatedly stated that Fox News Channel promotes conservative  political positions, racism, and both biased and inaccurate news reporting and commentary. Fox News has denied any bias in news reporting.
As a result of Fox News, there have been a proliferation of other news sources on cable television. As to over -the-air TV, their national news coverage is now consider a money making venture so they tend to concentrate on only stories that people want to hear, like national news (as opposed to world news), happy news, human interest stories, etc. Because of the demise of U.S. newspapers, the biased news on cable and the sketchy on over-the air stations, Americans have become skeptical  of the news they receive and some of the most ill-informed people and yet politically polarized in the world.
The results of all of this it that you are right when you say "There is nothing on television". There is really very little to watch on TV except mindless reality shows, dumb and often vulgar comedies, sports, re-runs, old movies and biased news.
Time is a precious commodity. It is the essence of life, very limited and all that we have. Why waste it on trivial and mindless television?

Why would anyone watch reality shows or get their news from television. Reality shows are the ultimate in pointless triviality. Who care about what a bride-to-be chooses for a wedding dress or the  what happens to the functionally illiterate family of Honey Booboo did this week?

And, most of television news is just sound-bites. It is much better to spend time reading the news on line on your computer. A half-hour of reading the news on AOL, Google or BBC News on line gives you a great deal of factual and objective national, international, and specialty news (medicine, science, sports, etc.) than a half-hour of television news- which in reality is about 20 minutes long when you eliminate commercials, trivial and happy news. etc. Also, it gives you the ability to seperate news and personal opinion. In print, sources are cited and analysis and commentary are labeled as such.  Commentary has its place but it is not the news.

As for entertainment, do not watch just anything on television.  Be very selective. If you take the time to search, you can find some good entertainment on PBS, HBO, Starz and cable, shows like Masterpiece, Nature, Nova, Real Time (Bill Maher), The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Newsroom, Breaking Bad, The Borgias, Shameless, Psyche, House, The History Channel, and even re-runs of MASH and The Golden Girls. And, as an alternative to TV, watch old and new movies from Netflix which are shown on your TV screen.

In essence, the way to watch television is to be selective and do something else when there is nothing on worth watching.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Amazing Words from an Amazing Man

One of the world's best known and admired religious leaders, retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu (born: 1931), the former Anglican Archbishop of South Africa, denounced religions that discriminate against LGTB-identified people. He made his very strong statements during the United Nations' launch of its gay-rights program in Cape Town this Friday. He left no doubt about his opinions regarding LGTB rights and that he views all people as God's children.
In his statement, this compassionate and intelligent clergyman said, "I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this. I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place. I am as passionate about this campaign as I ever was about apartheid (segregation). For me, it is at the same level." Then, he went on to relate the gay rights issue to his country's tumultuous history.
South Africa's iconic archbishop is clearly still fighting for equality despite his retirement.

Poem: from Shakespeare's Macbeth

Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 19-28)
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.
- William Shakespeare

The Power of Music: A Personal Story

Every Sunday morning, I listen to Sunday Baroque. It is a radio show broadcast on my local NPR (National Public Radio, USA) public radio station and it features baroque music for six hours. I love classical music, particularly baroque music. The word baroque is the word baroque is derived from the Portuguese word "barroco", the Portuguese word for pearl, and the music of the Baroque Period (1590-1795) is aptly named because each piece is gem.

Before my sclerosis, I got up in the morning very quickly and was extremely alert. Now, I have great difficulty getting up in the morning and it is the worst time of day for me. I am sluggish, slow moving and frequently in pain. As a result, I seldom get to church. Fortunately, my church, an Episcopal Church, has a Sunday evening service called Compline. It is a half-hour of English chant with incense in a dark church only lit by candlelight. It is heavily attended mostly by Yale University students. My wife and I go every Sunday with our good friend, a medical school student. What the three of us enjoy about Compline is the meditative atmosphere and the chanting. As our friend says, "It is the perfect way to start the week."

Whether it is classical music,chant, Asian Indian music, klezmer, classic rock, Cole Porter, Negro Spirituals, Native-American music, show tunes or even television theme songs, I love music and it is an essential part of my life.
I have often thought what an odd thing it is to see an entire species persist in playing and listening to meaningless tonal patterns, memorizing those tonal patterns, and occupying so much of their time by what they call "music".  The creation and involvement  with music is a uniquely human thing. Although what we call music is created by other earth species, for them it is not making music. It is their way of communicating with others of their species. And in part, that is also true of humans. But for humans, myself included, it is much more than that.
Originally in all societies, a primary function of music was collective and communal, to bring and bind people together. People sing together, dance together, in every culture, and one can imagine them doing so, around the first fires, a hundred thousand years ago. This primal role of music is to some extent lost today, when we have a special class of composers and performers, and the rest of us are often reduced to passive listening. Now, people have to go to a concert, a church, or a wedding to recapture the collective excitement and bonding of music.
Music has coercive powers. Take for instance that awful piece of music, The Star Spangled Banner. (Does anyone know the meaning or use the word, "spangled"?)  It's melody is based on and old English beer-drinking song which  was supposed to be sung loud and bombastically  after you had had one too many called The Anacreontic Song. Ironically. the U.S. national anthem's music was written by an Englishman, John Stafford Smith. And, Mark Twain said the only an altar-boy who voice was changing could sing it. Yet, it can incite extreme martial excitement, patriotism and solidarity in the American people, especially at a time of national pride, war or tragedy. The same dynamic is at play at a rock concert when the music is of excessive volume or has a strong overwhelming beat.  Thousand of those present respond as one as one to the music in the same way as the beat of war drums can incite extreme martial excitement and a sense of solidarity.
I turn to music when I need it because of its ability to move me and to create feelings, moods, states of mind. For me, music often is therapeutic. I was once asked by a psychologist, when listening to what type of music I never feel down. I said Strauss' waltzes. He said that whenever life overwhelms me or I get depressed, "I want you do some something. I want you to listen to Strauss waltzes. He continued by saying, you won't want to. Like most people, you will prefer to wallow in your misery and despair. And, the worst moment will be just before you play the music. But you are a  strong and intelligent person and you can do it."
One day, after a particularly bad day because I had a confrontation with my chairman at the end of the day, I walked my car thing a mixture of rage and depression. As I sat in my car, I was about to turn on the radio to listen to the news- which I knew would likely add to my rage and depression. But then I remembered what the psychologist said. I was sure it would not work, but I would try it- if only to prove the therapist wrong. I inserted a disk of Strauss waltzes in the player, and in no time, I felt better.
I experience a wide range of sensitivity to the emotional power of music, ranging from virtual indifference at one extreme to a sensitivity that can barely be controlled. However, most often for me, music is profoundly evocative. Many times, I have had the experience of being transported by the sheer beauty of music, or suddenly feeling excited, joyful, a sense of tranquility, finding myself in tears or feeling a great stillness within me.
An example of this is certain hymns. For instance, at my daughter's wedding, I cried when she came down the aisle. Most people thought that I was crying because I was overwhelmed with seeing her come down the aisle. And, indeed she looked beautiful and it was a very emotional moment.  But, what set me off was the hymn that she chose as a wedding march, All Creatures of Our God and King It stirs something deep inside of me, I almost always start to cry when I hear it, and I want it played at my funeral.  But, that is nothing in comparison to hearing the old Negro Spiritual, Where You There When They Crucified My Lord. There is a sliding musical wailing sound followed by the words by the word, "which causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble"  while increasing quietness which emotionally tears me apart and I cry uncontrollably. And, I literally cannot stand it. In short, certain pieces of music act as catalyst to take me inside myself and explore and cope with my ever-changing inner feelings.
And as with most people, music also evokes memories for me. Whenever I hear either  Rimsky-Korsakov's classical masterpiece Russian Easter Festival Overture or Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, I think of the demonstration record that came with our new HiFi record player when I was about 10 years-old. Those two pieces introduced me to the life-long pleasures of  classical music. Patty Paige singing Tennessee Waltz evokes images of my mother because it was her favorite song. I always think of a close friend who recently died,, whenever I play Ann Murray's two Christmas disks because he said, "It wouldn't be Christmas without it." Rock-n-Roll reminds me of how lonely I was as an introverted teenager. Hawaiian music evokes memories of our four trips to paradise. And, Radzinsky March by Strauss will forever remind me of how a young daughter, her grandmother, my wife and I used march around our bedroom clapping keeping time with the music at the finale of the PBS broadcast of the New Year's Day concert from Vienna of the Vienna Philharmonic.
I would love to hear how music affects your own lives.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Poem: The Naked and the Nude

The Naked and the Nude
- Robert Graves

Lovers without reproach will gaze
On bodies naked and ablaze;
The Hippocratic eye will see
In nakedness, anatomy;
And naked shines the Goddess when
She mounts her lion among men.

The nude are bold, the nude are sly
To hold each treasonable eye.
While draping by a showman's trick
Their dishabille in rhetoric,
They grin a mock-religious grin
Of scorn at those of naked skin.

The naked, therefore, who compete
Against the nude may know defeat;
Yet when they both together tread
The briary pastures of the dead,
By Gorgons with long whips pursued,
How naked go the sometime nude!
               - Robert Graves (1895-1995)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

News You May Have Missed, No. 51

World Oldest Writing Discovered
Archaeologists say they have discovered some of the world's oldest known primitive writing, dating back about 5,000 years, in eastern China, and some of the markings etched on broken axes resemble a modern Chinese character. The inscriptions on artifacts found at a relic site south of Shanghai are about 1,400 years older than the oldest written Chinese language. Chinese scholars are divided over whether the markings are words or something simpler, but they say the finding will shed light on the origins of Chinese language and culture. Inscriptions were found on more than 200 pieces dug out from the Neolithic-era Liangzhu relic site. The pieces are among thousands of fragments of ceramic, stone, jade, wood, ivory and bone excavated from the site between 2003 and 2006, lead archaeologist Xu Xinmin said. The inscriptions have not been reviewed by experts outside the country, but a group of Chinese scholars on archaeology and ancient writing met last weekend in Zhejiang province to discuss the finding. They agreed that the inscriptions are not enough to indicate a developed writing system, but Xu said they include evidence of words on two broken stone-ax pieces. One of the pieces has six word-like shapes strung together to resemble a short sentence. They are different from the symbols we have seen in the past on artifacts, Xu said. The shapes and the fact that they are in a sentence-like pattern indicate they are expressions of some meaning. The six characters are arranged in a line, and three of them resemble the modern Chinese character for human beings. Each shape has two to five strokes.
Music Creates Good Moods
A study suggests that music releases a chemical in the brain that has a key role in setting good moods. The study which was reported in Nature Neuroscience found that the chemical was released at moments of peak enjoyment. Researchers from McGill University in Montreal said it was the first time that the chemical called dopamine had been tested in response to music. Dopamine increases in response to other stimuli such as food and money. It is known to produce a feel-good state in response to certain tangible stimulants - from eating sweets to taking cocaine. Dopamine has also associated with less tangible stimuli such as being in love. In this study, levels of dopamine were found to be up to 9% higher when volunteers were listening to music they enjoyed. The report authors say it's significant in proving that humans obtain pleasure from music that is comparable with the pleasure obtained from more basic biological stimuli. Music psychologist, Dr Vicky Williamson from Goldsmiths College, University of London, said the research didn't answer why music was so important to humans but proved that it was. She added, This paper shows that music is inextricably linked with our deepest reward systems. The study involved scanning the brains of eight volunteers over three sessions, using two different types of scan.
Birth Rates Fall in Europe Again
Fewer babies have been born in Europe since the start of the financial crisis in 2008, a new study shows. The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Germany found that the birth rate in 28 European countries dropped as unemployment rose. People under 25 have been particularly affected, along with those living in southern European countries like Spain. The relationship between the economy and fertility has long been discussed, but remains controversial. Researchers at the MPIDR said their study proved that "the extent of joblessness in a contemporary European country does in fact have an effect on birth rates". The financial crisis hit Europe at a time when birth rates in many countries had just began rising again, said demographer Michaela Kreyenfeld. She said upward trends in some countries had come to a halt while in others, birth rates declined. In Spain, the total fertility rate (the number of births per woman) fell nearly 8% between 2008 and 2011 as unemployment went from 8.3% to 11.3%. A setback also occurred in Hungary, Ireland, Croatia and Latvia, the study said. And, growing birth rates slowed in countries such as the Czech Republic, Poland and the United Kingdom. But, in Germany and Switzerland, where labor markets have weathered the crisis comparatively well, there was almost no change in the number of children born.
Late Bedtimes Affect Children's Minds
Late nights and lax bedtime routines can blunt young children's minds. The findings on sleep patterns and brain power come from a UK study of more than 11,000 seven-year-olds. Youngsters who had no regular bedtime or who went to bed later than 11:00 had lower scores for reading and math tests.  Lack of sleep may disrupt natural body rhythms and impair how well the brain learns new information say the study authors. They gathered data on the children at the ages of three, five and then seven to find out how well they were doing with their learning and whether this might be related to their sleeping habits. Erratic bedtimes were most common at the age of three, when around one in five of the children went to bed at varying times. But, by the age of seven, more than half the children had a regular bedtime of between 9:30 and 10:30. Overall, children who had never had regular bedtimes tended to fare worse than their peers in terms of test scores for reading, math and spatial awareness. The impact was more obvious throughout early childhood in girls than in boys and appeared to be cumulative. The findings were published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. 
 Love Reduces Pain
Love hurts, at least according to many a romantic songwriter, but it may also help ease pain. Brain scans suggest many of the areas normally involved in pain response are also activated by amorous thoughts. Stanford University (California, USA) researchers gave 15 students mild doses of pain, while checking if they were distracted by gazing at photos of their beloved. The study focused on people early in a romance, journal PLoS One reported, so the "drug of love" may wear off. The scientists who carried out the experiment used "functional magnetic resonance imaging" (fMRI) to measure activity in real-time in different parts of the brain. It has been known for some time that strong feelings of love are linked to intense activity in several different brain regions. These include areas linked to the brain chemical dopamine, which produces the brain's feel-good state following certain stimulants - from eating sweets to taking cocaine. The Stanford University researchers had noticed that when we feel pain, some of the same areas "light up" on the scans - and wondered whether one might affect the other. They recruited a dozen students who were all in the first nine months of a relationship, defined as "the first phase of intense love". Each was asked to bring in a picture of the object of their affection and photos of what they deemed an equally attractive acquaintance. While their brains were scanned, they were shown these pictures, while a computer controlled heat pad placed in the palm of their hand was set up to cause them mild pain. They found that viewing the picture of their beloved reduced perceptions of pain much more than looking at the image of the acquaintance. Dr Jarred Younger, one of the researchers involved, said that the "love-induced analgesia" appeared to involve more primitive functions of the brain, working in a similar way to opioid painkillers.
Ancient Egyptian Sphinx Feet Found in Israel
Archaeologists digging in Israel say they have made an unexpected find: the feet of an Egyptian sphinx linked to a pyramid-building pharaoh. The fragment of the statue's front legs was found in Hazor, a UNESCO World Heritage Site just north of the Sea of Galilee. Between the paws is a hieroglyphic inscription with the name of king Menkaure, sometimes called Mycerinus, who ruled Egypt during the Old Kingdom more than 4,000 years ago and built one of the great Giza pyramids. Researchers don't believe Egypt had a relationship with Israel during Menkaure's reign. They think it's more likely that the sphinx was brought to Israel later on, during the second millennium B.C. The inscription also includes the phrase, Beloved by the divine manifestation … that gave him eternal life. Amnon Ben-Tor, one of the Hebrew University archaeologists leading the excavations at Hazor, thinks that descriptor could be a clue the sphinx originated in the ancient seat of sun worship, Heliopolis, which is today mostly destroyed and covered up by the modern city of Cairo. The part-lion, part-human sphinx was a mythical creature represented in art throughout the ancient Near East as well as India and Greece. Ben-Tor and colleagues say the artifact found at Hazor is the first-ever discovered sphinx fragment associated with king Menkaure. It's also the only royal Egyptian sphinx ever to be unearthed in Israel, according to a statement from Hebrew University. The statue fragment was exposed at the entrance to the city palace in an archaeological layer that dates to the mysterious destruction of Hazor when it was occupied by the Canaanites in the 13th century B.C.
Choirs Have Synchronized Heartbeats
Choir singers not only harmonize their voices, they also synchronize their heartbeats. That is what researchers in Sweden found by monitored the heart rates of singers as they performed a variety of choral works. They found that as the members sang in unison, their pulses began to speed up and slow down at the same rate. The researchers also found that choral singing had the overall effect of slowing the heart rate. Writing in the journal, Frontiers in Psychology, the scientists believe the synchrony occurs because the singers coordinate their breathing. Dr Bjorn Vickhoff, from the Sahlgrenska Academy at Gothenburg University in Sweden, said, The pulse goes down when you exhale and when you inhale it goes up. So when you are singing, you are singing on the air when you are exhaling so the heart rate would go down. And between the phrases you have to inhale and the pulse will go up. If this is so then heart rate would follow the structure of the song or the phrases, and this is what we measured and this is what we confirmed. The scientists studied 15 choir members as they performed different types of songs.

Reading People's Dreams
Scientists have found a way to "read" dreams. Researchers in Japan used MRI scans to reveal the images that people were seeing as they entered into an early stage of sleep. Writing in the journal Science, they reported that they could do this with 60% accuracy. The team now wants to see if brain activity can be used to decipher other aspects of dreaming, such as the emotions experienced during sleep. Professor Yukiyasu Kamitani, from the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories, in Kyoto, said: I had a strong belief that dream decoding should be possible at least for particular aspects of dreaming.... I was not very surprised by the results, but excited. The team used MRI scans to monitor three people as they slept. Just as the volunteers started to fall asleep inside the scanners, they were woken up and asked to recount what they had seen. Each image mentioned, from bronze statues to keys and ice picks, was noted, no matter how surreal. This was repeated more than 200 times for each participant. The researchers used the results to build a database, where they grouped together objects into similar visual categories. For example, hotel, house and building were grouped together as "structures". The scientists then scanned the volunteers again, but this time, while they were awake and looking at images on a computer screen. With this, they were able to see the specific patterns of brain activity that correlated with the visual imagery. During the next round of sleep tests, by monitoring the brain scans the researchers could tell what the volunteers were seeing in their dreams.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

It is our most sacred food and yet we take it for granted. It is a staple on every continent and found in a infinite variety of shapes, sizes and tastes. It is both the first item we are served in most restaurants and the first thing that we give up when we go on a diet. In some parts of the world, it is used in place of eating utensils. And, it is the only food mentioned in a Biblical prayer.
It is bread.
Recently, while sitting in one of the many fine restaurants in the area and before even ordering anything, I was served a basket of bread. The napkin-lined basket contained several types of the warm bread, each with a different color, texture and ingredients. As a result, I got to thinking about this commodity we take so much for granted.
No meal seems to be complete without some form of bread as part of it. In fact, so closely is bread associated with eating that one of the synonyms for a meal is "breaking bread". We even use the word as a slang for our most valued commodity-  money! Yet, in spite of its ubiquity, there is no synonym for bread itself.
What makes something a bread? Apparently to be a bread, leavening agent must be used in order for it to rise. Although yeast is the most common leavening agent, it is not the only one although the word "bread" implies this. (The word "bread" comes from an Old English word meaning "to brew", as when using yeast to brew beer, for example.)
When we eat bread, we unconsciously pay homage to our culture and our past. Many of our ancestors would have starved without a crust of bread to nourish them. And, lack of bread caused masses of people to take to the streets and riot in France and Russia.
And, as a holy food, bread stands alone. Special types of bread are associated with Christian church services and important holy days like Christmas and Easter. Because bread was associated with the body of Christ in the mind of my Italian grandmother, she never cut it with a knife and kissed it before throwing a stale piece away. In fact, when it got stale, she would do just about anything not to throw it out- like make bread crumbs, stuffing, bread pudding, or soak it in olive oil and serve it as a snack.
Perhaps the greatest and most often use of bread is in making a sandwich. The sandwich- that "invention" created by the British earl whose name was given to the practice of sticking just about anything between two slices of bread before consuming it. Little did he know that in all of the Middle East, in parts of India, and in parts of Africa, the practice of using bread to "sandwich" food had existed in one form or another for centuries.
Our most popular lunch and arguably most healthy snack food, pizza, is a bread. The origins of pizza is obscure, but aficionados claim that the finest pizza can be found in Naples, Italy. However, this quick baked flat bread with a topping has been re-invented and re-interpreted by cultures around the world. I have had pizza covered with Hawai'ian pineapple and bacon, with hot Korean kim-chee (a spicy picked cabbage) and even with smoked Dutch herring.
There are probably as many varieties of bread as there are nationalities, customs and tastes. Italians excel at bread-making with each region of Italy creating a bread of its own texture and taste. The French gave the world the "baguette" which is still purchased fresh and daily by Frenchmen.  Several Indian breads are unique: "nan", a flat bread baked on stone; "kulcha", a bread stuffed with onion, vegetables or chicken pieces; and pori, a bread which puffs up like a balloon when fried in oil. There is also the dark rich German "pumpernickels", flavored and colored with molasses. And of course, Jewish challah, Russian black bread, Jamaican coconut bread, Greek pita bread, Hawai'ian pineapple bread, Irish soda bread, Norwegian flat bread, Portuguese  sweet bread, American corn bread, and more.
So, whether it is made of wheat, rye, corn, potato, rice, or whether it is flat, oval, braided, round, crusty, soft, black or white,  "Give us this day our daily bread…."

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

As American as Spaghetti

During the summer of 1993 while in South Korea on a fellowship, a young Korean came up to me and asked if I was an American.  When I said that I was, he smiled and his eyes lit up. After a brief obligatory inquiry about my impression of his native country, the conversation turned to food.  Did I like Korean food, he asked.  What did I think of "kim-chi" (hot pickled cabbage leaves), bul-go-kee (soy sauce marinated and grilled pieces of beef) and other Korean favorites? After telling him how much I enjoyed them, the university student decided to share his thoughts about American cuisine. He paused for a moment and then said, "I love spaghetti. It is my favorite American food."
At first, I found the statement humorous, but then I thought about what he said. I supposed that the last thing which comes to mind when you think of American food is spaghetti. Maybe you think of apple pie, barbequed ribs, or clam chowder but not spaghetti. But then, why not? If a cuisine is based on what people really eat, then spaghetti is as American as, well, apple pie.
More than once, I have come across people who say that there is no such thing as an American dining- except possibly greasy fast food. They maintain that everything Americans eat has its origins  elsewhere, and therefore, nothing that we eat is really American, with the possible exception of corn which  Europeans feed only to pigs. And, some food critics go so far as to say that if you really want to taste "authentic" fare, you must go to the country of the dish's beginnings.
Yet, many in this nation of immigrants maintain that what we eat is really different from the food found in the country from which they or their ancestors migrated- sometimes even for the better. Those of Chinese origin say that what passes for Chinese food in this country is not really Chinese but a unique hybrid suited to "American tastes".  Some Italians I know maintain that Italian food in this country is really a one of the many regional Italian cuisines. It primarily is from Naples and it does not reflect the full scope and variety of the food of Italy. In addition, pasta in Italy is not a main course but generally served as a side dish. Indian restaurant fare in the U.S. is richer and far more plentiful than that found in India. And, there are even some who say that the finest examples of so-called ethnic preparations are not found in foreign countries but in the U.S. because the chefs and ingredients are better in this country.
If a cuisine reflects the history and tastes of a nation, then as a reflection of the diversity of its people, America has one of the most varied and eclectic cuisines in the world. Our national eating habits are the results of waves of immigration resulting in the incorporation of new dishes in the American diet. How many people while growing up in crowded immigrant communities first tasted and appreciated the ethnically different food of a neighbor or a friend? While the moneyed elite at the beginning of the last century turned up their noses at such peasant ingredients as garlic, green peppers, soy sauce, broccoli rabe and kielbasa, and would never dream of eating raw fish (sushi), the foundation was being laid for the inclusion of these new "foreign" items into the American taste. Indeed, the turn of the last century Americans would be shocked to see what ordinary and trendy people today consume as part of their regular diet.
In the end, it turns out that spaghetti is a very American dish- along with chili, lasagna, dim sum, tortillas, knishes, roti and samosas. So, in addition to the hamburgers and hot dogs at your barbeque  on The 4th of July, serve with pride some of the ethic foods which are part of the American tradition. The American people are multi-ethnic, and as a result of that, it has one of the most varied national diets in the world.
*      *      *
Ethnic Recipes
2 beef T-bone or porterhouse steaks, cut 1-inch thick
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons Italian parsley, minced
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, or 1 tablespoon dried oregano, crushed
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground red pepper
Place steaks on a grill and grill to desired doneness. Or, broil steaks on the unheated rack of a broiler pan on both sides with surface of steaks 3 to 4-inches from heat source. Turn once.

Meanwhile, prepare the sauce by combining the olive oil, parsley, oregano, garlic, salt, and red pepper. Spoon most of the sauce on top of steaks for the last 2 minutes of grilling.

Serve the steaks with the sauce on top.



1 pound beef, cut in 3-inch strips or squares
1 scallion (green onion), chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
4 tablespoons plain or toasted sesame seed
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 tablespoons sugar
speck of pepper

In a bowl, mix together the beef, scallion, garlic, sesame seed, soy sauce, oil, sugar, and pepper. Mix well. Let stand for between 15 and 30 minutes.

Broil on a grill or fry in a small amount of oil until tender. If frying the meat, when meat is almost cooked, add a small amount of water, and cover the frying pan tightly. Let the meat steam for a few minutes more.
Serve hot.

Note: This dish can be served over rice.
          Koreans also serve the a couple pieces of the cooked beef wrapped in individual Romaine lettuce leaves.
2 lbs. medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
½ cup olive oil
1/3 cup chopped Italian parsley
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ cup unflavored breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper, to taste
Lemon wedges

Wash shrimp under cold running water. Pat dry with paper towels.
In a large bowl, combine oil, parsley, garlic, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper.  Add shrimp to the mixture. Mix until well coated. Let stand for one hour.
Pre-heat broiler or grill.
Remove shrimp from breadcrumb mixture. Gently press some extra breadcrumb mixture onto shrimps. 
Place shrimp on skewers. Put skewers under hot broiler or on grill. Broil or grill 2 minutes on each side, gently turning once.
Serve immediately with lemon wedges.